How Important is Your College Major? The Short Answer Is Maybe Not Much!

I think people, especially parents, put way too much emphasis on trying to figure out what major a student should pursue in college. Often the student is subjected to a battery of tests to help determine a major. I’ve heard it said, “You don’t have to decide at 18 what you’re going to be at 48.” I have found that the undergraduate major may not be as important as people are lead to believe.

I was on a radio program last Saturday (this is July 2010) to discuss college education. One of the hosts shared that his daughter had a Political Science degree from a local university and has spent the last two years looking for a job. I responded that I had taught Political Science at that particular university and paused for a moment.

I tried to correlate Political Science degree and not finding a job. I quickly scanned my vast knowledge of the job market and asked myself “Is she looking for an entry level Political Scientist position?” I answered my own question… “Baby, there aren’t any… never have been and probably never will.” Maybe I’m wrong and you can comment on this to correct me.

We have to ask ourselves the fundamental question: Why do I need to go to college? Well, most people respond “So you can get a better job.” OK – didn’t work this guy’s daughter. Is there something missing in this equation? Maybe so. Let me have a crack at it.

If you are going to college so you can get a better job, then you need to major in something that would make you valuable and attractive to a potential employer or prepares you for an established career field. I think there is absolutely ZERO demand for young political scientists at, let’s say, at Wal-mart corporate. But, I might be wrong. Someone from Wal-mart might need to correct me on this.

Let’s face it, most people major in Political Science (and English, and History, and Sociology, etc.) because they have a keen interest or even a passion for the body of knowledge. From the perspective of preparing a person for a career in one of those fields, the universe collapses to teaching or going to grad school to get credentials to teach at a higher level. There are very few pure practitioners in these fields, those who are have grad degrees and are somehow tied into a university and have teaching experience.

So, what’s the solution? Keep in mind this is coming from a guy who has a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice. I’ve never busted anyone or wrote a parking ticket. The degree hangs proudly on the wall. My second doctorate is in Urban and Public Administration… nobody has asked me to be their Mayor. It, too, hangs proudly on the wall, with a few more degrees in-between the two.

So my counsel:

First – unless you have a Damascus Road or Burning Bush experience, I would not be too hasty in selecting a major… and I would fend off all those who think you have to know what to major in before you even set foot on campus. I thought I wanted to major in Computer Science. After three weeks of manually punching cards (this was a loooong time ago), I rethought my career plans.

Second – Take a variety of courses. How do you know you don’t like Geology? Or Journalism? Take your basics and an elective or two your first semester.

Third – Think Strategically. If you develop a passion for Shakespeare but don’t see yourself teaching high school English, major in something more practical like Journalism or Business, and minor or double major in English. Pursue a path that is both-and, not either/or. Balance your passion with practical preparation for a job after you graduate.

Finally – It’s your life. College is a place to learn. I took Science Fiction Literature my sophomore year to watch monster movies and get an easy A. Boy, was I wrong! I was forced to learn how to dissect, sauté, carve up, and savor every morsel in literature, and barely escaped with a C. But I became impassioned with literature and was now equipped to enjoy and appreciate it. Though I never majored in it, I have taught literature at both the high school and college level, and written several complete English curriculums for high school and college. Not bad for an unrequited cop and mayor.

Re-Invigoration of the Public Sector

I do not mean re-engineering or even re-structuring. Maybe all we need is merely to invigorate the government system in order for it to achieve the maximum efficiency that is expected of it.

We have tried such modes of re-invention as re-engineering and re-structuring, at great cost in time and money, and yet improvements have not been substantial or palpable. The public continues to languish in long queues every time a license or a passport is needed. Bribes are ever pernicious and even more open today, like it is not anymore a secret that should be tucked inside the pocket or a key thrown into the deepest ocean.

The public continues to encounter lazy faces of public servants seemingly tired of their day job and daydreaming of life in beaches almost all day long. At the slightest error, the public who is merely seeking public service get squirmed at by those who are especially employed by the government in order to serve the public, and in order that the common person have the convenience that the government owes them.

What is the aim of the public sector now? This is one vital question that should be addressed before everything can be settled. Is the public servant merely holding position just in order to make a living? He or she should rather be selling vegetables or meat in the market, at least thereat; there would be wider potentiality for the improvement of wealth. Nobody could really get rich in the government service, even serving for a long time.

Is the public servant merely holding position for social status and pride? He or she would rather be joining pageants and spectacles on television, for he or she would be known better there.

The public office is a public trust. This dogma had even been institutionalized in our most fundamental set of laws – our Constitution – and this is most encompassing of all, where no one should be allowed to forget the essence of public service, which is in order to serve the people, and not merely for self-aggrandizement.

In view of the foregoing issues, therefore it is but time to realign our views about the public sector, starting from the people within it. That for every employee of the government, whether national or local, every time he or she sees an individual, riding a Mercedes Benz or wearing no shoes and in tattered clothes, it should not matter, because that person, whether rich or poor, famous or unknown, is the very public sector he or she is aimed to serve.

In this manner, improvement of government service and the government system could be initiated, entering its nascent stages.

Despite the improvements in work environment, like air-conditioned areas, new buildings, expensive vehicles and increase in pay and bonuses, government service remains the same old horse, who is lackluster in movement, lacks dynamism and most of all, deficient towards its main aim of serving the public dutifully and with vigor. The government remains a system that is prone to stagnation and inefficiency, misappropriation, abuse of authority and lack of direction.

We have tried re-engineering the government system in the past and yet even the best re-engineers couldn’t tame the wild river that is the Philippine government system. Maybe we need a rocket scientist for this. We have tried re-structuring but even if our re-structurers could build a pyramid or an Eiffel Tower out of a molehill, the government system remains an ancient nipa hut.

Maybe it’s time that we should try re-invigoration.

It’s not as complicated to do as re-structuring does or as expensive as a re-engineering would demand. It only takes will, political will and cooperation from the people in the system. There are a number of factors that would be put in focus in this aim of putting the government service in the right track, one is leadership, two is awareness, three is competition, four incentives, and five public choice.

In LEADERSHIP, I mean to say political leadership. When we all almost agree that politics and the bureaucracy could not really be separated and is intertwined almost all the time, leadership becomes a most important factor in putting vigor and integrity back into the government service. In choosing our political leaders, especially in the next election activities in the coming years, the people should now aim for leaders who have proven capacity to lead and carry an entire workforce towards the improvement of service. It starts with the people then. If the electorate fails in the first place to change our leadership from the highest level, towards the root level, then re-invigoration of the government system would remain an illusion.

AWARENESS is two-pronged, first there should be awareness or a high level of consciousness among our public servants that their holding of their respective positions is not meant for self-aggrandizement alone, as a form of livelihood above all, but in order to serve the public well, and this should become a passionate and patriotic mission in every individual that would be integrated into the government service. Secondly, there should be similar level of awareness as to the PUBLIC being the CLIENT that the government is aimed to served, (the private sector prefer to call them CUSTOMERS) and the government system is aimed at primarily serving the needs of the CLIENT, that when the client is dissatisfied, public service becomes irrelevant and inefficient in every sensible sense possible. The CLIENT becomes the reason for existence, without it, there is no public service in the first place. This way, every client that enters the halls of a government office should be served well, for the moment that no one would anymore enter the halls of government offices, is just about the time that public service should eradicated.

COMPETITION could be injected into the public sector so that improvement of service could pertain. If the public could be given a choice as to the locus of a better service that they are necessitating, then every public servant would aim to proffer the better form or kind of service. This would entail privatization or semi-privatization of some government agencies or giving the public more stake in the government system, where there is increased community involvement in public service. Competition would entail the heightened accountability and responsibility factor, where the government service would become directly accountable towards the community, that there is really not one that is indispensable, that the public would always have a better place to go when someone in the public sector doesn’t want to serve the people anymore, but only wants to receive salaries and bonuses. This is where PUBLIC CHOICE comes. This element of re-invigoration is the most complicated of all, but it could be done through medium term action plan, like say five years in the process, incrementally achieved by phases. And of course, this would entail a more detailed document and methodology.

Competition also would bring forth to the adjustment of tenures in public service where at present, there is that seemingly extreme bias in favor of security of tenure, so extreme that even if a public servant would go to his or her work in drag and sleep all day, the government system could not take him or her away, resulting to mass demoralization and low-level performances. Public service should straightened out its merit system that only a good performance could lead to promotions and increase in compensation, that not one indispensable that for whenever a public servant does not want to serve the public anymore, as expected of him or her, then other more competent or more able individuals from the workforce should be recruited in his or her stead.

INCENTIVES of course remains a very important element, just like in re-structuring or re-engineering, that for every PUBLIC CHOICE of a government service, the better service would gain performance incentives, such as quota bonuses for a certain level unit of work, like for example if this government cashier had served 100 clients in a day, then performance credits and bonuses would inure or if this inspector had visited more areas or locations in a month than all the rest, he or she receives a hefty amount. It could be done in a larger scale that for example if this government agency branch had performed well in a particular year, more than the others in the same field, the whole workforce of that branch would get bonuses and be lauded with public acclaim. They do that in private sector, that’s why the private sector had been able to build the grand Makati skyline over the years, and is establishing another in Fort Bonifacio and in Ortigas, aside from the busting urban scene in Cebu and Davao, and they do not receive any subsidy from taxpayers, unlike the government service system.

The private sector had not been fraught with issues of grand corruption because employees in the private sector do not attain such level of indispensability like that in the public service, where those who performed well are credited well and remain in the service for long, while those who are lackluster and lack integrity in work is taken out of the system. And besides, if one reaches a managerial or administrative level in the private sector, one is assured of hefty compensation that is why, in recent years, managers and executives of private companies have been able to increased sales in dramatic proportions. There are a lot of things that the government service could learn from the private sector in terms of methodologies, form of work structure, incentive system, recruitment and promotion system, tenures of employees, work ethics and level of competency and most of all in their treatment of the CLIENT, which they often call as the CUSTOMER.

In public service, the CLIENT may not always be right, but for certain they are the reason for being. A population that is served better by the government, in terms of public service– like education, licenses, security of food, public order and safety, health and welfare, livelihood opportunities, housing, job placements, communication and technology, etc.– is a population that can make a better government and thereon, a more vibrant State.

Higher Technical Education: Distinctiveness of Humanities, Indian English, and ESP

I am grateful to the organizing committee for thinking about me and inviting me to deliver a guest lecture on distinctiveness of Humanities and social sciences in higher technical education. I feel rather uneasy and highly septic, as I stand here with no pretensions of a high-brow professor or specialist whose discourse goes overhead. I speak to you as a practicing teacher of English language skills, especially for science and technology, and Indian English writing, especially poetry, with interest in what concerns us in the Humanities division, which, unfortunately, enjoys little academic respect in the over-all scheme of things in almost every technical institution.

Maybe, a conference like this augurs well for friends in the department of Humanities & Social Sciences, as they seek to explore interdisciplinarity, which indeed expands the scope of teaching and research. But I must provide a perspective to my several remarks that ensue from my reflections on the quality of intellectual activity in most technical institutions vis-a-vis the negligible support for scholarship in the Humanities, perhaps with the belief that the humanities are not ‘real subjects’ or that these have no bearing on learning of technical subjects, or these bring no demonstrable economic benefit.

The discipline has declined more perceptibly with, to quote Nannerl O. Keohane, “the creation of increasingly specialized disciplines and rewards for faculty members for advancing knowledge in those areas.” We have a marginalized status in technical institutions even if we may have been playing a crucial role as teachers of languages and letters. I don’t want to dwell on them here. But, we should be aware of the ground reality.

Yes, study in humanities is not always a matter of communicating ‘new findings’ or proposing a ‘new theory’. It is rather ‘cultivating understanding’ or thinking critically about some profound questions of human life; it is often the expression of the deepened understanding, which some individual has acquired, through reading, discussion and reflection, on a topic which has been ‘known’ for a long time. To me, practices in arts and humanities elevate consciousness, refine susceptibilities in various directions, create deeper awareness, and enable us to respond critically and independently to the ‘brave new world’ we live in. Arts and humanities alone can help us to explore what it means to be human, and sustain “the heart and soul of our civilization.” Perhaps, it’s the usefulness of humanities which is acknowledged by inviting me to speak to a distinguished audience like this.

I intend to divide my brief into two parts: I would reflect on technical institutions as schools of higher learning; and then, I would say something about the business of English language teaching, which is my prime professional concern. Yet, much will remain unsaid, for I am aware of the controversies I may be raising.

I strongly feel most university level technical institutions in India, like the general ones, have failed in promoting or upholding healthy intellectual attitudes and values, and academic culture and tradition, expected of a university, just as, it’s painful for me to observe, the culture has been virtually dismal in the case of studies in arts and humanities in the last four decades. The dullness and sameness has marginalized both creative and critical performance, or the standards handed down to us have become obsolete, or we have fallen into an abyss of unbecoming elitism, or we have become used to a cornucopia of pleasures formerly denied us: I won’t comment. But an opportunity, such as this, is necessarily not to offer any authoritative judgments but to reflect on, or to provide insights into, issues that concern intellectuals at the top of university teaching hierarchy. Should I say ‘non-university’? for I fear most of the faculty do not want to move beyond the parochial confines of narrow exclusivity. It’s the age of specialization they say, and discourage diversity, tolerance and inclusivity: they do not strive for intellectual mobility and change of attitude; we, as seniors, too, have not tried to reach out, or explore!

As a university, we are not oriented to the transformation of our social order, nor are we obligated to act as a moral deterrent in inhibiting the growth of selfish motivation. We think of education in terms of laboratory or industrial practices in mineral and mining sectors, energy, electronics, engineering, computer application, environment, management, law, health sciences, life sciences, and all that, but hardly care for ‘producing’ fully competent and spiritually mature human beings. We do not pay attention to the growth of individual creativity and to an intuitive understanding of individual purpose. We do not bother to educate with, to quote Rabindranath Tagore, the “knowledge of spiritual meaning of existence” which is also the ethical and moral meaning. We have been, unfortunately, bogged down in schemes that inculcate a habit of the mind which indulges in seeking only better opportunities to survive, or higher pay packages.

I’m afraid for too long we have practiced the “how to” of life and neglected the “why”. I believe it is comparatively easy to learn how to accomplish certain material tasks, but much more difficult to learn “what for”. If our educational system has failed over the years, it is because we have never come into a working knowledge of our humanity. We have gained incredible amount of technical knowledge, perhaps more than enough to resolve many problems with which mankind is presently faced, but we have never tried to reflect on how to apply it constructively and successfully for the good of all, with a sense of human dignity.

Some of us rightly worry about the general lack of mutual respect for the rights and feelings of others, the tendency to be suspicious of the unknown, the tendency to take liberty with the sanctity of the individual person, and complain about the general lack of character and integrity, despite higher education. I see our failure in communicating with the spiritual insight which is marked by a balance between individual desires and social demands; I see our failure in creating the awareness of the world of values and principle of the spiritual oneness underlying the great variety found in the world. I see our failure in the humanity being torn apart by intolerance and fundamentalism, the suicidal urge for self-destruction. I see our failure in the rising ethnic, linguistic and religious tensions that now belie the scientific, technological and enlightened euphoria of the sixties.

We seem to have lost a sense of obligation toward creating a good, tolerant, forward-looking society. Thanks to the role of money in democratic processes and institutionalization of corruption at all levels, people have lost faith in politicians, bureaucrats and government. The invasion of governance by the criminal-politician-bureaucrat nexus has done the country greatest harm than the shift of power following the wave of globalization, multinational capitalism, corporate economy, politics of war on terror, environmental concerns, human rights and all that. There is a reshaping of self, values and norms with dominance of the Western discourse in critical reasoning and reflection through perils and delights of growth and change; through survival skills vis-à-vis emigration, sex, parenthood, and age; through re-visiting past and present with vested awareness; through political orthodoxy in the name of democracy, religious fanaticism, casteist dominance, and repression of the liberals and the simple; and through the new processes of fossilization of the pre-colonial/colonial/post-colonial that renders many of us in the profession irrelevant. I wonder if we are not terribly dislocated in our small world.

Let me not digress any further. Ladies and Gentlemen, every university is a school of higher education, but how high is high? If we are only interested in technical education for the sake of developing professional ability or skill in some area of life, then we are talking about a vocational school or polytechnic, and not a true university. Unfortunately, most universities (and technical institutions) have been vying with each other to become professional schools, not committed to the teaching of better morality, higher philosophy, universal order or universal culture. They are not producing morally and ethically conscious good citizens. I am afraid all one can expect from the present priorities in the so called higher education is survival, pursuit of money, and power.

When science is transformed into technology, it becomes a form of power. And, as history would testify, power is the power for good and for evil. The technological culture we live in pervades and shapes our lives. The computer and internet culture, electronic gadgets, microwave, fridge, mobile phones, antibiotics, contraceptives and several such devices have been more than new means. Our sense of vulnerability has been changing fast. The new consumerist culture has taken away what was earlier meaningful and rich experiences of life.

We in the Humanities & Social sciences department need to debate the multifaceted reality that modern technology offers-not only its devices and infrastructure which are its material manifestation but also skills and organization, attitudes and culture, perhaps constructively and contextually. Thinking through technology should make possible for us to develop and contribute to humanities philosophy of science and engineering just as different visions may be possible to discuss through social philosophy of technology. Researchers in the West have already been talking about technology as liberator, technology as threat, and technology as instrument of power. Our lives and ideas have thus changed and will continue to change. In fact, every field has been changing rapidly these days. The discipline (HSS) needs to incorporate their study, especially as media such as internet and social networking have already modified and redefined human relationship and identities everywhere and at all levels.

Then, there is the emergence of what has been called ‘knowledge society’. The growth or creation of knowledge society that we have been talking about since the beginning of this century presupposes our capacity for idea generation. But if knowledge is not made freely available to all who seek it, how can one promote humanity or make it power for a liberal democratic society. Moreover, as scientific and technical knowledge spreads or becomes more powerful, it would become more problematic for the scientific community to assume moral responsibility for the use and abuse of scientific knowledge. To mitigate this challenge, one needs an education not so much in science but in humanities. When scientists say they want to live up to their social responsibilities, what they seem to mean is that they want more power than they have; it means they want to run things, to take charge. They should not end up ‘doing politics’ in the name of improving the world or society. Let them be interested in themselves, in facing the task of their own self-improvement, and learning how to think about their own responsibilities in a more serious and reflective way, their own moral education.

As a faculty in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in one of the leading technical universities in the country, what I think the scientific and engineering community has to face up to is its own self-education, its own social education. Our budding engineers and scientists have to explore answers to such basic questions as: what is a good society? How do we go about achieving it? How do we-what do we-learn from history? What do we learn from political philosophers of the past? Or, why scientists think and speak the way they do? They cannot neglect this kind of educational enquiry in technical education because there is more and more to know as the fields proliferate. Which means, the department of Humanities and Social Sciences should equip them with the basics that helps them demonstrate understanding in and across the major disciplines: scientific understanding, technical understanding, mathematical understanding, historical understanding, artistic/humanistic understanding, cross-cultural understanding, and understanding of moral and political philosophy, and philosophy of science etc. There is need for providing new unfamiliar concepts and examples to promote such understanding which will later enable them to take enormous decisions vis-à-vis the complexity of the world science and technology has brought about.

With the present consciousness, accept it or not, we, in educational establishments, have perpetuated living with a world in upheaval, and in some cases, have even shown a preference for it. But, with a higher order of awareness that approaches intuitive levels of understanding (something arts, culture and humanistic studies essentially seek to develop), we should be better able to look at an issue from many different dimensions, and rationalize how we ought to live in the future “as complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize traditions, and understand the significance of another person’s sufferings and achievements,” to quote Martha Nusbaum from her book Not for Profit.

A technical university needs to provide for education which also elevates the consciousness and extends the power of the soul; that is, we need to shift a part of the current educational priorities from the intellect to the heart, and from scientific and technical thinking to soul cognition. The end and aim of a university, be it technical or general, is the perfection of man, striving to evolve the consciousness in tune with the universe.

The education we ‘sell’ needs to be re-tuned towards creativity, innovation, and respect for fundamental freedom; our policies and curiculums should help in strengthening the culture and values of a global society which is characterized by multiculturalism, intercultural interactions, mutual respect, tolerance, dignity and respect for values, and consciousness of ourselves as one human race, human rights and global responsibility for change in attitudes. We must, at every level, strive for a balance between the traditional attitudes and the need for a modern multi-cultural society.

I believe most of the new technical institutions can maintain their distinctiveness by seriously opening to the diversity of our times, by sharing freely with students representing the diversity of our larger society, culture, and future needs. The enclave approach which seeks to shut out or at least seriously limit the diverse socio-cultural needs and understanding may not help any more to maintain distinctiveness of the institution.

I also worry about the system’s unwillingness to nurture the ethos and sensibility that sustains a university spirit even as, according to the current govt. policies, an institution of higher learning is expected to run as a business enterprise which in days to come, will modify, perhaps irreversibly, our attitudes to teaching and research, our notions of knowledge, our administrative practices, and our relationship with the state and society. We need to make a move from the concerns of the immediate present to the future and visualize a different typology of cultural, linguistic and educational problems against the backdrop of a very fluctuating socio-political climate and pressures of all types.

As part of the language and literature teaching fraternity for over 38 years and working in a specialized university, I know how significant Humanities teaching is to hone the mind, critical thinking and communication skills. I am tempted to quote Erwin Griswold (of the Harvard Law School): “You go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts or habits; for the art of expression, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and mental soberness.”

Now, let me talk about the business of English Language Teaching. I say ‘business’ because it has developed into a multi-million dollars commercial enterprise outside the native bases. We too, have an opportunity to capitalize on it in our own way, if we can. We can reach out to people in over 70 countries where English is one of the main languages.

The global diffusion of the language has now taken an interesting turn: the ratio between the native speakers of English (in countries like the U.K., the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the non-native speakers (in countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Philippines etc where English is used along with the mother tongue) is almost 40: 60, and it has expanded fast to other countries (like China, Japan, Egypt, Indonesia, Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, the Gulf Countries, and the countries of the erstwhile Eastern Bloc). It is virtually a native language in South Africa, Jamaica and West Indies. Its acculturation, its international functional range, and the diverse forms of literary creativity it is accommodating are historically unprecedented.

As Braj B. Kachru notes, the situation today is such that the native speakers have an insignificant role in the global spread and teaching of English; they seem to have lost the exclusive prerogative to control its norms of use or standardization; in fact, if current statistics are any indication, they have become a minority.

This sociolinguistic fact and its implications have not yet been fully recognized by most linguists, ELT practitioners, ESPists, administrators, language policy planners, and college and university teachers in India. What we need now are new paradigms and perspectives for linguistic and pedagogical research and for understanding the linguistic creativity, including the scientific and technical writing, in multilingual situations across cultures.

You will appreciate the English we all speak is not like the English the native speakers of the language speak. We don’t need to. The yardsticks of the British or American native speakers, or their standards as reflected in GRE, TOEFL or IELTS etc, or their kind of tongue twisting, are simply damaging to the interests of non-native speakers. We have to develop our own standards, instead of teaching to sound like Londoners or North Americans. Pronunciation must be comprehensible and not detract from the understanding of a message. But for this nobody needs to speak the so called standardized English that makes inter- and intranational communication difficult. David Crystal too appreciates this reality and favours local taste of English in India and elsewhere.

Our Indianness is clearly reflected in the pronunciation of certain vowels and consonant, in the stressing of words, in the rhythm and pauses, in the vocabulary and lexical acculturation, discourse patterning, code mixing, usages, grammatical deviations etc. The prolonged linguistic and cultural contact of English in various states of the Indian union has given it a unique character which deserves serious academic exploration. It has acquired a considerable functional range and depth, and it is preposterous to expect that the language would not be ‘shaped’ or ‘moulded’ according to the local needs or remain unaffected by the influences of local languages and literatures, cultures and users. It is, in fact, the result of such deep-rooted local functions, that we have now an institutionalized model of English for intranational uses. The way India’s multilingualism and ethnic pluralism have added to the complexity of Indian English, apart from ‘mixing’ words, phrases, clauses and idioms from the Indian Language into English, and in ‘switching’ from one language to another, perhaps to express the speaker’s ‘identity’ or linguistic ‘belonging’, the role of ‘native speaker’– the British or American– as become peripheral, as Kachru rightly asserts, unless he or she understands the local cultures and cultural presuppositions.

I am not very much concerned with the literary perspective of Indian English here, even if I have been actively associated with Indian English literary practices for over thirty five years. I am professionally interested in the language use and usage of Indian writers, and scholars and researchers of science and technology, the localized educated variety they have developed to communicate indigenous innovations. You can appreciate this if you have noticed development of local registers for agriculture, for the legal system, for entertainment industry, for Environment, and so on. The publications of Indian practitioners of science and technology have certain discourse features which are unique to Indian English, but not examined.

I suspect Indian English is not yet recognized as an important area of research for ‘English for specific purposes’ (ESP) that we teach. [It is also, however, very sad that though ESP as an approach is now firmly established, it still has fewer supporters in India, possibly because nobody wants any changes in the conventional teaching-learning practices?] Having been in the forefront of ESP movement in the country for over twenty five years, I am aware of the localized linguistic innovations in the huge output of Indian researchers, some of which has the potential for serving effectively and successfully as pedagogical texts or teaching materials. But it is unfortunate the English teaching academia are slow to recognize the pragmatic contexts–the importance of intranational uses of English and according to local needs – and continue to stick to the external norms of English. It’s more regrettable that the conceptual and applied research on ESP in the West has avoided addressing issues which are vital for understanding the use of English across cultures.

The way ESP has turned international, teachers and researchers in Applied Languages in our country need to explore: what accommodation a native speaker of English may have to make for participation in communication with those who use a local (or non-native) variety of English; what determines communicative performances or pragmatic success of English in its international uses; what insights we have gained by research on intelligibility and comprehensibility concerning international and intranational uses of English; and what attitudinal and linguistic adjustments are desirable for effective teaching of ESP based on a non-native English, like Indian English. These are a few basic questions, not convenient to Western ESP enthusiasts.

I have noticed in the Western ESP in general, and science and technology in particular, a strong bias towards ethno-centricism in approach and neglect of intranational motivation for the uses of English. It is not possible to practice ESP effectively unless we respect, what John Swales call, “local knowledge” and “localized pragmatic needs”. After all, we use the language as a tool and we cannot ignore the localized innovations that have “code-related” and “context-related” dimensions. We ought to view non-native innovations in ESP as positive and consider them as part of the pragmatic needs of the users. It is the attitudinal change that I plead for!

Teaching of ESP in a university in the second language situation like ours is largely a “collaborative sense-making” with the class. When I say this, I am pointing to the interactive nature of formal instruction, which, in terms of actual language use, is essentially Indian in tone, tenor and style. I am also referring to the need for understanding the dichotomy between the rhetoric of EST teaching and the practice enacted in the classroom from the viewpoint of adult learners, and language skills development and competence in the Indian social setting. We need to evolve a dynamic model of ‘communicative teaching’ of ESP which seeks to develop (i)linguistic competence (Accuracy), (ii)pragmatic competence (Fluency), and (iii) sociolinguistic competence (Appropriacy), without ignoring interrelated aspects of local practice, research and theory and at the same time emphasizes language awareness, which is a significant concept in ELT, in that it covers implicit, explicit, and interactive knowledge about language and provides for a critical awareness of language and literature practices that are shaped by, and shape, sociocultural relationships, professional relationship, and relationship of power. The approach can also facilitate cross-cultural comparisons and contrasts, and promote genre-based studies (i.e. how language works to mean, how different strategies can be used, how meaning is constructed), basic to ESP, in that it truly develops individual’s performance competence.

Friends, I have hopped from one point to another, perhaps jumbled up, in my zeal to draw your attention to several aspects of English, Indian English and ESP that have wider and deeper implications. They touch attitudinal chords of English language users, teachers and administrators too. Teaching of English, both language and literature, today is not only academically challenging but also opens new refreshing avenues for applied research. This is because of the spread and changing status of English, which has grown from a native, second, and foreign language to become an international language of commerce science and technology, spoken among more non-natives than natives in the process of their professional pursuits or everyday lives. I have also placed certain facts of science and technology education in the context of Humanities before you, raised issues, expressed my view, and now it is for the profession to accept, reject or explore their implications. Thank you.

Copyright:
Professor R.K.Singh
Head, Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian School of Mines
Dhanbad 826004 India

[This is the Text of my specially invited Lecture at SRM University’s International Conference on ‘Role and Responsibilities of Humanities and Social Sciences in Technical Education’ on 17 March 2011]

College Grads Turn to Public Service

As jobs became scarce during the recession, many college graduates turned to public service work, many taking nonprofit and US military jobs. From 2008 to 2009 alone, 16 percent more college graduates worked for the federal government and 11 percent more worked for nonprofit groups, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau. A Labor Department survey showed that the amount of college grads going into these jobs continued to rise in 2010.

Since the start of the recession in 2007, an increasing and steady number of college graduates (tens of thousands) also joined the armed forces, with the Navy and the Army seeing the biggest increases. About 60 percent more graduates joined the Navy in 2011 than in 2007.

“When the economy worsens, as it has in recent years, we certainly see a surge in the number of young people who are highly qualified, who want to join the military,” said Beth Asch, a researcher for the RAND Corp – an organization which has studied U.S. military recruitment for over 40 years.

“Since the mid-2000s, the unemployment rate has essentially doubled,” she said. Since then, the Army and Navy saw more than a 50 percent increase in recruits with college degrees, the RAND Corp reported in 2012.

According to statistics in 2011 from numerous public-service organizations, the number of college graduates nationwide seeking nonprofit work with organizations like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America also sharply increased.

“It’s not uncommon for me to hear of over 100 applications for a nonprofit position, sometimes many more than that, and many more Ivy League college graduates applying than before,” Diana Aviv, chief executive of Independent Sector, a trade group for nonprofits, told The New York Times in 2011. “Some of these people haven’t been employed for a while and are happy to have something. But once they’re there, they’ve recalibrated and reoriented themselves toward public service.”

Applications for Americorps positions nearly tripled from 91,399 in 2008 to 258,829 in 2010, and 582,000 applications were submitted in 2011. The number of applicants for Teach for America also climbed 32 percent in 2011. In 2012, Teach for America received the highest amount of applicants to date – more than 48,000.

Limited work in the private sector and a weak economy weren’t considered sole contributors to the new trend, however. Student loan forgiveness programs, presidential support and a more prevalent desire to serve noted among the millennial generation were also believed to be significantly contributing factors.

Some cited President Barack Obama’s popularity with youth, background as a community organizer, and his promise to make public service “cool” which helped spark young people’s interest in public service careers.

In a 2007 interview with Time magazine, Obama, then a U.S. senator, said that he could “make government and public service cool again” if elected president:

“One of the things I think I can bring to the presidency is to make government and public service cool again. There’s such a hunger among young people for some outlet for their idealism. That’s why you see these movements around Darfur or climate change. You don’t see it expressed in terms of people wanting to serve in the Justice Department or the foreign service. Why should they, when the core missions of those agencies have been gutted? “)

Another perk and influence for recent graduates to enter public service was the federal public service loan forgiveness program, created in 2007. The program grants forgiveness of student loans for those who work in public service for 10 years.

“I think there’s this great need in so many different areas that my generation is just responding to,” Courtney Washburn, a 2010 graduate who decided to make a living in public service, said to Knox News.

“One thing my generation is starting to see is that money isn’t an end all,” says 22 year old graduate Warren Pineda. “We value intrinsic rewards other than money. It’s just trying to be the change that you want to see, because if you don’t do it, nobody else will.”

Some political scientists have said that millennials – those who grew up in the 1990s or the 21st century – are “unusually big-hearted,” attributing this in part to extra community service requirements they had in school.

“This generation grew up with big events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina,” said Sandy Scott, senior communications adviser for the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C. – the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps. “They were exposed in K-12 education at an early age to the rewarding value of volunteering, a new but growing phenomenon. They want to make a hands-on difference, so it’s no surprise they’re flocking to AmeriCorps and other public-service opportunities.”

Although the numbers of educated young people working in public service jobs had been rising slightly since the turn of the millennium, the sudden uptick in 2009 suggests that it may have been the absence of private sector work, and not big-heartedness, that forced more recent grads to seek work in the public sector. From 2008 to 2012, private jobs were down 4 percent; the federal government, meanwhile, expanded by 11.4 percent.

Although nonprofits were happy to have energetic, educated, inexpensive new-hires, some worry that their popularity among today’s youth may not outlast this period of increased unemployment. Several studies have found however, including Paul Oyer’s 2008 findings on M.B.A.’s who graduate in recessions, that economic conditions at the start of a worker’s career can have a strong impact on one’s long-term career trajectory.

That ending may, in fact, not be too far ahead of us now. This month, the Employment and Training Administration of the US Department of Labor reported that first-time unemployment insurance claims were down 330,000 – a low level not seen since January 2008. Bloomberg News cautions, however, that the data does not account for swings that take place at the beginning of a year.

The last three months, moreover, have reportedly marketed the largest four-year decline for public employment since World War II – one public employee was fired for every five private sector workers who found a job. Since the end of 2008, nearly 700,000 public sector employees have lost their jobs, mainly due to budget cuts.

Those who lost their job were more likely to not have a post-secondary education, data presented in “The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm” indicates. Almost four out of every five jobs lost from December 2007 to January 2010 belonged to workers without a college degree, and jobs gained during the recovery have not been returned to those workers, but taken by workers with a bachelor’s or higher degree, or postsecondary training.